Deep in the snazzy labyrinth that is the Metro’s hippest neighborhood, Poblacion in Makati—even during the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak—lies what is literally a secret headquarters for powerful komiks creators.
No, seriously, it’s called Secret HQ, and it is the office of Komiket, the group that has been toiling for the Filipino komiks community. “We started as a group of komiks creators who wanted to provide more opportunities for creators to sell their work outside the established comics conventions available,” said Paolo Herras, director by day and Komiket president all day, too. “We chose to be an art market so more artists can join us and grow the community.
The group is best known for its independent Komiket conventions.
“Since April 2015” said Herras, “we have organized 25 markets in seven cities, taught seven comic book creator’s workshops, gave out 18 Komiket Awards with 18 ‘komikstarter’ grants, and published five comic book anthologies.”
As the group was growing fast, they needed space for exhibitors and storage for the books they were publishing.
“We wanted our space to be in the middle of the Metro, and near our board members’ homes. Makati was that middle.”
The name, however, is effective if not as clever as you’d want. “One of Komiket’s characteristics is we keep our projects secret and only announce it when we’re sure it’s ready to launch. So the secretive trait reflects more of our planning with insight.”
Secret HQ opened its secret doors on Nov. 26, 2019. Secret HQ deserves a visit if only for one to see the uniquely designed display bookshelves that make it look like some superhero’s library. “We asked the help of architect Rafael Pinoy to design Secret HQ and book shelves,” said Herras. “We have two murals done by Mel Casipit and Ardie Aquino.”
That’s because while Secret HQ, indeed, operates as Komiket’s office, it also functions as a space for the group’s popular workshops and, most significantly, as a book shop for locally published comic books.
“We know it’s difficult to maintain a bookstore, but it’s aligned with our advocacy,” Herras explained. “Most local comic books are not found in bookstores because local komiks cannot compete with office supplies and foreign books, nor do they have the paperwork to sell in stores, or have the time and energy to deal with big bookstores’ processes of delivery and collection.”
When Komiket goes on the road (Cavite, Las Piñas, Cebu or Quezon City), it brings its trove of titles. “So creators can still earn even when they’re not exhibiting in our events,” said Herras.
“We offer personalized service, and here, local comics are the heroes of our space,” he stressed. “Every peso you spend, helps a local creator, a local publisher or even both. But we support other stores that carry local komiks. Local creators need all the support they can get.”
Among the indie titles, the bestsellers are Bambi and Roland Amago’s “Carnal Tales,” Tori Tadiar’s “Sagala,” Gerry Alanguilan’s “Elmer,” Pol Medina Jr.’s “Pugad Baboy” and “Sikami,” a compilation of works from Pangasinan creators. Komiket puts out it own anthologies, and its LGBTQ+ issue has proven popular as well.
Among commercially published work, bestsellers are Arnold Arre’s “Mythology Class” and the sequel “Children of Bathala.” Komiket carries as well as the remaining copies of Visprint titles ‘Kikomachine Komix,’ ‘TRESE,’ ‘Tabi Po,’ ‘Mythspace,’ ‘Maktan1521’ and ‘After Lambana.’” Other favorites are Anino Comics’ “Dead Balagtas” and “Sixty Six Book 1” and “Book 2.”
It also has “hard-to-find” books such as ‘The First 100 Years of Filipino Komics and Cartoons’ by John Lent and the National Book Award-winning ‘Siglo: Freedom’ and ‘Mars Ravelo’s Darna’ from Mango Comics.”
Events at super speed
Considering Secret HQ has only been around since late November, it’s been holding events at super speed. “We had Patti Ramos’ comic book workshop and Mookie Tamara’s basic animation workshop, which was very intimate and personal. We had art and story workshops from hard-to-find creators like Ian Sta. Maria, who is currently based abroad, working for LEGO. We also had ‘TRESE Lite’s’ book launch at Secret HQ, and over 200 people came on a Friday the 13th afternoon, to have their copies signed and meet and greet Budjette (Tan) and Kajo (Baldisimo, (‘Trese’ creators). Whilce Portacio dropped by to say hello. We also had the ‘Sixty Six Book 2’ book launch with Russell Molina and Mikey Marchan last Feb. 15.”
But even super-powered venues have proven vulnerable to COVID-19. “Like most businesses, we’re struggling to make ends meet,” Herras said. “We don’t know when it’s safe to put up art markets again, which (are) the main source of revenue for Komiket. We’re doing our best, pivoting our bookstore to an online bookstore and online workshops.”
This meant changing Komiket’s program of activities. “During the lockdown we promoted free readings of digital komiks and gave free online workshops to help keep people’s spirits up. When the lockdown was lifted, we immediately pivoted our physical bookstore to an online bookstore and converted Komiket’s Facebook page to promote the books.”
This September, pandemic or no pandemic, Komiket will be holding the Philippine International Comics Festival online, with webinars and online workshops promoting creators’ rights.
But Komiket is no charity: it intends to survive somehow, just as Secret HQ, with its comic book shop and event spaces is meant to be self-sufficient. Herras, who makes comic books and is an advertising creative director, said Komiket offers services, such as “content development in writing and illustrating storybooks. “If any company, foundation or brand would like us to develop comic books, children’s books, or story books, please email [email protected],” said Herras. “We worked with Nestlé Philippines, Philippine Disaster Resiliency Foundation, AHA Learning Foundation and Alliance Française. We’d love to work with you.”
You readers can help, too: “They can commission our services, buy a comic book or attend a workshop. When you support a creator, a little bit supports Komiket.”
Secret HQ is a cave of wonders right in the middle of the city, and it deserves to endure somehow. “We’re just doing our best to survive and we’re taking it one day at a time,” Herras explained. “Sadly, our landlord did not give us any rent waive or discounts even when we could not operate. So we’ll have to see. We’re ready to let go of this too, if this is what has to be done.”
If Secret HQ survives the pandemic, we’ll still be here, ready to serve. If Secret HQ has to close its doors, it doesn’t affect Komiket at all. Komiket will always rise when needed.”
But the crusade for komiks will continue.
“Despite the pandemic, it’s still an amazing time to be alive, and see these fantastic creators up close and in person,” Herras said. “It’s amazing these talented creators have so much to give, and they’re willing to share their creative talent and wisdom when they teach workshops or hold talks. To hear the joy in readers who appreciate the books or get inspired from the workshops they take, validates this is worth holding a space for.” INQ
Secret HQ is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday to Saturday, but is closed to outsiders until the pandemic is over. It is at 5/F, Unit A, E&M Bldg., 5682 Doña Carmen St., Barangay Poblacion, Makati City. Email [email protected]; [email protected] on social media, @KomiketSecretHQ on Facebook.